This section is from the book "Handbook Of Hardy Trees, Shrubs, And Herbaceous Plants", by W. Botting Hemsley. Also available from Amazon: Handbook of hardy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.
Evergreen usually dioecious shrubs or trees with scattered or distichous linear decurrent leaves. Male flowers in small globular catkins. Female flowers solitary, bracteate at the base, with one erect seed seated on a disk which enlarges into a coloured fleshy cup around the lower part of the seed. The forms of Yew are numerous, and the extreme ones very distinct; but there are probably not more than three or four species and perhaps only one. They are found in temperate regions throughout Europe, Asia and North America. Taxus is the classical name of the Common Yew, but its derivation is disputed and variously explained. The most probable is from a bow, in allusion to the use made of the wood.
1. T. baccata. Common Yew. - This tree is remarkable for its slow growth and sombre foliage, enlivened in Autumn by the small scarlet fruits. It is indigenous in Britain, and many fine old trees exist, especially in burial grounds. Besides the ordinary form, which it is unnecessary to describe, there are many others of garden or wild origin, some of them very striking. The most familiar is the variety fastigiata or Irish Yew, easily recognised by its close erect habit and very dark green foliage. T. baccata Dovastbni, Weeping Yew, is remarkable for its drooping habit. The American form, Canadensis, is a dwarf straggling shrub with rather shorter leaves than the English Yew. In America it bears the name of Ground Hemlock. Hibernica has spreading branches; eri-coldes unusually small foliage; erecta, syn. stricta and pyra-rnidalis, is very distinct, branching from the base, forming many slender nearly erect stems; Cheshuntiensis is a fast-growing variety, intermediate' in habit between the common and Irish Yews, with bright glossy foliage. Jacksbnii, gracilis, nana, Mitchelli or sparsifolia, horizontalis, etc., are slight varieties scarcely worthy of discrimination. The variety glauca is described as desirable and rapid growing., having the foliage silvery on the lower surface. Some of the variegated varieties are very handsome when planted in cool shady places. The gold and silver striped aurea variegata and argentea variegata, and elegantissima, an erect fast-growing variety beautifully variegated with yellow, are the best. There is also a variety which produces yellow berries.
2. T. adpressa, syn. T. baccata adpressa, T. tardiva, etc. - Whether this be specifically distinct or not from the Common Yew, it is sufficiently different in appearance and foliage to be equally if not more desirable for the shrubbery. It has short oblong-oval acute crowded glossy dark green leaves and pale pink berries. In habit this is very near the ordinary form of the Common Yew, but it is of very slow growth and seldom exceeds 5 or 6 feet in height. It is a native of the mountains of Japan, and very hardy in Britain.
T. cuspidata is a rare Japanese species remarkable for its sharply-pointed rigid leaves; T. brevifolia, syn. T. Lindleyana, is from North-western America, near the Common Yew, but with shorter less coriaceous distinctly petiolate mucronate leaves; and T. Wallichiana, syn. T. nucifera, found in the mountains of India, is probably a variety of the Common Yew.